Rethinking Kashmir Policy
2 November 2003
Karachi: The world is changing at an amazingly fast pace. No less amazing is how Pakistan refuses to change. This is as true in the timeframe of a generation as for shorter periods. Change, of course, connotes improvement in the economic and social standards of the people. The outstanding examples of contrast to this often quoted are of South Korea and Malaysia which in the middle of the last century stood at the same level of development as Pakistan did. Today they are much richer and more progressive. The comparison with these two and some other countries of the East was considered not to be wholly valid because their work culture, skills and resources were believed to be inherently superior. Pakistan's next generation may be seeking a similar alibi when Sri Lanka and India forge ahead. China, as we know, is inexorably set on that course already. The purpose here is to look in a different direction and quickly compare Pakistan with Egypt as in this comparison the arguments advanced for lagging behind the Tigers of the East cannot be invoked. The factors common to Pakistan and Egypt being the religion of Islam (with its extremist fringe), authoritarian governments (even when elected) and long confrontation with a hostile but better armed neighbour in a troubled region. At the start of the decade of the nineties, Egypt's per capita income was 620 dollars, Pakistan's was 420 dollars. At the end of the decade it had risen to 1,530 dollars in Egypt while in Pakistan it hovered around the same old figure of 420. Going by the purchasing power parity which is a better measure of the prosperity of a people, the income of an Egyptian today is about 4,000 dollars while that of a Pakistani is half of that. An average Egyptian now earns twice as much as a Pakistani. Lack of democracy could not be a reason for Egypt to gallop ahead, for Pakistan had more of it during the decade and, perhaps, all along. The reasons for the axiomatically indolent and obese Egyptians performing better than the martial and austere Pakistanis thus are to be found elsewhere than in the representative character of their respective systems of government. The real difference between the two countries lay in their dealings with their enemies abroad and extremists at home. Egypt resolutely subdued its religious fanatics and suppressed the violent among them ruthlessly. When the Egyptian generals and politicians found they could not defeat Israel either in the battle- field or in diplomacy (because of the American support to the Jewish state), they made peace with it. Pakistan chose to act to the contrary on both counts. Its successive governments pandered to the extremists, appeased or bribed them. As a result, they grew in numbers and strength. The jihad in Afghanistan and then in Kashmir brought them arms and money and yet covered them with an aura of holy warriors or martyrs. They are now embedded in the country's politics and parliament replacing the hereditary and more moderate politicians. The government woos them for support for its survival while they heap insults on the generals and judges alike. At the murderous fringe they physically eliminate each other. When Egypt discovered to its humiliating cost that it could not wrest the usurped Arab land from Israel, it recognized Israel but without giving up the Palestinian cause. Wars could not win the Palestinians a homeland. Negotiations and diplomacy, with Egypt and other Arab states behind it, might. The same should be true of Pakistan-Kashmir- India tangle of bloodshed which is as old as Arab-Israeli conflict. By taming or suppressing religious fanatics and making peace with Israel, the Egyptians have eradicated violence from their own society. The streets of Cairo are now safe at all times of the day or night even for unescorted, unveiled women. Can that ever be said of Karachi? Untutored and unbiased shopkeepers and taxi drivers of Cairo when questioned say that the majority of the people there pray and fast. Men and women alike go to mosques without making noise or without pretence. It is difficult to make that claim for Karachi or for the country. Peace with Israel and clamping down on extremists thus has made the streets and mosques of Egypt safe and busy. Violence against the minority Shias and hard-working Coptic Christians is unheard of. In Pakistan, peace, tolerance and prosperity have all fallen victim to bigotry and jingoism. Authoritarianism may have deprived the Egyptians of freedom of choice and expression but it has earned them peace and safety without discrimination on grounds of faith or race. Pakistan, on the other hand, remains a loser on both counts. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad (who in his departing moments has emerged as the hero of the Muslim world), while deploring that the Jews rule the world by proxy (of America), advised the OIC to negotiate with Israel and not send the suicide bombers to it. In his 22-year rule Mahathir was everything from charismatic to controversial, modernizing to authoritarian but he never gave a quarter to the extremists even in his shaky moments. In bringing Malaysia to its present level of prosperity and communal harmony, he harnessed the entrepreneurial energy of its 30 per cent Chinese and physical labour of its 10 per cent population of Indian origin to the advantage of the majority Malays and the country as a whole. In resolving its many internal problems and dispute with India, Pakistan has some lessons to learn from Malaysia and Egypt sitting at the opposite ends of the Islamic spectrum (incidentally, both these countries, though Muslim, are closer to India in sentiments and in more mundane matters like trade). The lessons are chiefly two: first, to have no truck with the extremists and permit all communities to give their best to the country as part of one nation as the Chinese in Malaysia and Copts in Egypt do; and, second, the Kashmir dispute could be resolved only by creating an atmosphere of goodwill with India and mustering world support for it and not by armed or nuclear might, nor by suicidal incursions of zealots. It should cause both anxiety and shame to the makers and exponents of our Kashmir policy that in the current efforts at normalization, the world press is giving all the credit to India for its 'peace initiative' and acclaims Vajpayee as a statesman while Musharraf gloats over his harangue at the OIC which will do nothing as it hasn't in the past and foreign minister Kasuri is ever set to repeat the theme of 'core issue.' Pakistan's standpoint on Kashmir finds little mention there. To India, the core is no more than the 'illegal occupation of a portion of the state' by Pakistan. Quite obviously, Pakistan's national strategy and the rhetoric of its leaders both need rethinking. Pursuing the present course will only lengthen and harden the stalemate. The time is on the Indian side. Divisions and despair appear to be undermining the freedom fight within Kashmir while the people of Pakistan and the world at large get weary.